Today’s Google Doodle Honors Chemist Asima Chatterjee
Organic chemist Asima Chatterjee paved the way for Indian women in science and improved the odds of survival for patients with cancer, epilepsy, and malaria.
Born in 1917, when India was still a British colony, she grew up in a relatively comfortable middle-class family in Calcutta, where she was encouraged to pursue an education — although it’s unlikely that anyone expected her to pursue it as far as she did. Chatterjee completed a Masters degree in organic chemistry at the University of Calcutta in 1938, and six years later she became the first woman in India to earn a doctorate in science. Around that time, she founded the Department of Chemistry at Lady Brabourne College, a women’s college affiliated with the University of Calcutta.
Throughout her long and prolific career, Chatterjee’s research focused on chemical compounds produced by plants native to the Indian subcontinent. Her work on a group of chemical compounds from the Madagascar periwinkle plant, called vinca alkaloids, contributed to the development of drugs used in chemotherapy to slow the growth of some types of cancer by preventing cells from dividing. Other research led to an anti-convulsive drug called Ayush-56, which helped treat epilepsy, and several anti-malarial drugs. She published around 400 papers and several volumes on Indian medicinal plants and their chemistry.
Chatterjee died on November 22, 2006. Today marks her 100th birthday.